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Gym Junkies and Cardio Cowboys: Finding Fitness Motivation Despite Intimidation

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If you’re like me and you frequent a gym, then you know that the environment can make or break your focus. For some, the gym is a jungle of Gym Junkies and Cardio Cowboys. Not everyone is at the gym for the purposes of working out. Some gym-goers simply like to show off, while others go to socialize. Some members are very courteous and helpful, while others linger around machines, flex their biceps and gossip in large groups (often on cell phones).

Does this help or hinder you? Well, that depends on how well you handle distractions. For me, I find certain habits mildly annoying, but so long as I have clear access to the equipment I need, I don’t let external nuisances affect my gym mindset. The gym has become my sanctuary; it’s the place I go to put my mind on stand-by and let my body take the driver’s seat.

For those of you who find the social gym jungle rather intimidating, there are several things you can do to help mend your focus and let you get back to your workout.

How to Focus at the Gym and Get a Good Workout

1. Take your equipment elsewhere. I’ve talked about this is in terms of when the gym gets busy, but you can also do this if you would simply like your own space to focus on your routine. Just because the dumbbells and medicine balls are located along the wall, it doesn’t mean you can’t take them to the other end of the gym. Find a spot out of harm’s way, and feel better knowing that “nobody’s watching you.” You can then resume your concentration. So long as you return the equipment once you’re done, no one will raise an eyebrow.

Depending on your gym, there could be studios or secondary cardio facilities that you’re not aware of. If you’re able and it’s not occupied, take your resistance bands to the dance studio and practice there in peace. This way, you can practice your moves without fear of “looking stupid” in front of a lot of people who seemingly know more about fitness than you do.

2. Rethink intimidation. Feel lost doing your moves next to the more experienced gym-goers? Turn intimidation on its head and ask the fit bodies for help or advice instead. If you feel up to it, approach a fellow member for tips on how to perform any moves you might be unfamiliar with. After all, there’s a reason they look the way they do; it may be beneficial to ask them for a suggestion. You’ll find that many of the “intimidating” folks at the gym are actually very friendly and are happy help out a fellow member. So long as you’re making the approach in between sets (don’t try to ask a question if he or she is mid-squat), you should be in the clear.

At my gym, many of the fit bodies are actually trainers who either make a living off helping others in the gym or just do it to share their knowledge. If you don’t feel comfortable asking just anyone for advice, seek out your gym’s resident trainers or instructors to schedule some one-on-one time. This way, you can get the proper know-how to performing those tricky moves.

3. Channel the vibe. For me, crowds and distractions at the gym are minor inconveniences that I actually use to my advantage. I know some people don’t like sweating while surrounded by a gaggle of other gym-goers, especially when space is scarce or you’re intimidated by all the other fitness-savvy gurus, but try to use the gym atmosphere to spur you on. Instead of sweating the fact that it’s crowded, I channel the “vibe” of the gym and use it to motivate myself to go harder. Just think, you’re surrounded by dozens of other gym-goers who, for the most part, are all there to work out. It’s positive peer-pressure in a sense.

As for the showboaters, you can motivate yourself by showing off a little as well. Imagine performing your best set, running that extra two minutes or pushing yourself as hard as you can go. Take a page from the Gym Junkies’ flash and swagger and aim to show your best stuff as well. While showboaters tend to perform for other people, you’ll be doing it for yourself—pushing it to the limits because you can and want to. Use this philosophy as motivation to increase your gains, rather than needlessly flaunt your biceps for other gym-goers.

4. Remember why you’re there. Taking a page from what I’ve previously mentioned about making the gym your sanctuary, keep in mind the purpose of your visit to the gym. If socializing and swagger is the focal point of your visit, so be it, but if not, tailor your mindset around seeing your body make new gains. Sweat, as I recall, is a beautiful thing. If I’m not huffing and puffing in sweat-drenched clothes following my workout—if I don’t feel I’ve physically exerted myself during my gym session—I don’t leave fully satisfied. This is my motivation for hitting the gym, what’s yours?

If the fit bodies are intimidating, try to remember why you’re at the gym in the first place. You’re there to work out, to break a sweat, to lift your spirits, and ultimately, to help you meet your fitness goals. I actually rather enjoy the gym, simply because it’s that one place where I can frequent freely without being overly mindful of my appearance. I typically wear no make-up and pull my hair back. No fuss, no muss, no bother. I know that no matter how “fug” I look going into the gym, I’m always going to end up feeling on the top of the world after my workout. It’s that place where, in theory, we’re all working to be healthier and see a positive change in our bodies. You aren’t necessarily expected to already be at the final leg of the race—that’s the whole point.

As for my two cents, I personally have no qualms with those who are fit and happily aware of it; these people have obviously worked hard to get where they are, and they deserve to be proud of their bodies. This can actually be inspiration to everyone striving to meet their own goals. For some, however, the gym becomes more of a catwalk and less of a fitness studio. I’ve heard comments from men (not just women) who feel a bit intimidated lifting weights around other gym-goers who seem to be simply flaunting it without a care for working out. This seems to be the natural reaction for those who are new to the game. Fit bodies can intimidate, since you’re a newbie and not too sure of the ropes yourself. I suppose different people visit the gym for different reasons, and fortunately or unfortunately, this is something you have to navigate if you’re a gym-goer. Just remember, regardless of how fit or unfit the body, many of us are actually there for the same reasons. So use this to your advantage!

I’d like to hear your impressions on motivation and intimidation at the gym. How do you utilize fit bodies as inspiration, and how do you handle distractions? —Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan is an avid food and drink aficionado who also enjoys breaking a good sweat. A fan of “living the good life” and always looking for new ways to find a balance between the fun and the hard work, Morgan is living proof that managing a full life and meeting your workout goals is totally possible. Her focus is on mobile fitness and nutrition—an approach to weight management based on the idea of convenience, portability and real-world lifestyle expectations. As you’ll note, she’s a fan of the gym, but also understands that life begins outside of these arenas.

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